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The Baltimore Sun (US)
Sunday, January 21, 1996
THE FEMININE MUSIQUE
By J.D. Considine
NEW YORK -- In another life, Tori Amosí "Professional Widow" might have been
a Led Zeppelin tune.
Just listen to the way the opening notes growl, scraping up through the
blues scale with the same jackhammer insistence as "Black Dog" or "When the
Levee Breaks." Itís precisely the sort of fist-pumping power riff Jimmy Page
would play - except that Amos plays it on harpsichord.
"My musicians were dying to put guitar on this,"
Amos says, smiling smugly. Even bassist George Porter wanted to join in, take
the heavy-rock route, and ride the power of the riff. But Amos wasnít having
"I said, "This is what I want, George,"
she says, standing and slowly grinding her hips. "I
want this. I want molasses. I want Sly Stone. I donít want these rock
gods. Take them out of the room. Iím not interested in this obviousness."
That pretty much sums up the approach Amos takes on her third and newest
album, "Boys for Pele" (Atlantic 82862, arrriving in stores Tuesday). She does
not want to take the obvious route; she is more interested in goddesses than
rock gods, and she would prefer to let the songs have their say.
It is an attitude that reeks of strength and self-confidence. Yet the album
itself is rooted not in the success the 32-year-old Amos garnered through her
last album, the multiplatinum "Under the Pink," but in the emotional desolation
and need she felt when her relationship with Eric Rosse, her producer and
creative partner, fell apart during the "Pink" tour.
"A funny thing happens when a soul-mate walks
out of your life," she says.
Amos, dressed casually in torn jeans and a zip-up sweater, is sitting in a
New York hotel room, working her way through a week of back-to-back interviews.
Itís the kind of thing most musicians treat as a mixture of "Meet the Press"
and flog-the-album, but as Amos talks about the turmoil she went through at the
end of that tour, the mood seems almost confessional.
"Letís put it this way: I just hadnít developed
so many sides to myself," she says. "And as
I was playing show after show, I was desperately trying to find a place to fill
these sides my being that felt empty. I didnít know how to plug in. I couldnít
feel that fire in my own being, as a woman. I needed men in my life, to reflect
that back to me, to say, 'You have what we didnít have.í I needed to feed at
that point. Like a vampire. I needed boy blood."
Amos was not interested in mere ego gratification, at least not in the usual
"As a musician, I didnít need that," the
former Peabody Prep student says. "The musician was
excelling. But the woman was...I wasnít really listening to her."
Instead, she listened to the men she was seeing until she realized that she was
not getting what she needed from these new relationships, either.
"I needed certain things from them, and obviously,
thereís an exchange," she says. "Well, they
tapped certain energy force fields from me that they needed, and I still needed
theirs." She laughs ruefully. "So thatís how
you hit bottom." Bottom, though, was the beginning of "Boys for Pele,"
the first step on the creative path Amos took.
"This record is truly a story about a woman who
descends, who finds fragments in the unconscious to bring back into the light,"
she says. "But I was forced [by these circumstances] to do this...Youíre on your knees, and you make a choice.
"And the songs started coming. 'Blood Rosesí was
the first, and it was that feeling of ripping open your vein and going, 'This
blood has sold millions of records. This blood can do many things.í And [the
men are] like, 'Yes, Tori, and this blood isnít enough for us.í"
That may seem a little harsh, given how pretty the song seems at first
hearing. But like much of "Boys for Pele," thereís more to the music than shows
on the surface. Listen with lyrics in hand, and youíll find an undercurrent of
anger and recrimination surging beneath all those harpsichord pirouettes,
sentiments almost as shocking as the burst of keyboard distortion that erupts
midway through the tune. "Itís not about, 'How
could you do this to me?í The work, on any level, isnít," she says. "But it has so much of the seduction, and then the
disillusion, and then the shock of the need that I had. But it was all of these
things happening, all at once. and [I was] trying to get to the core."
THE 'BLOODLINE OF WOMANí
Getting to the core was not just a matter of diving deep into her own
shattered emotions; serious research was involved. Because Amos wanted to
understand what it would take to become a whole woman, she "went back to the bloodline of woman, to the Magdalene."
"I wanted to know why the blueprint of the
Magdalene was not passed down," she says. "what
was passed down was the whore that wiped Jesusí feet. We skipped the whole
phase of the woman - having sexual desire, wisdom, passion. Being an equal to
Jesus, in truth.
"I truly believe that there was a unification
there, a representation of the wholeness. Man with his masculine and feminine
in balance; woman with her feminine and masculine in balance. Two whole beings,
joined together. The blueprint.
"Thereís work in the past from other writers
that have gone into this, particularly when you go back over a hundred years
ago," she adds. "And that was the beginning
of the journey."
What turns up on "Boys for Pele" are the lessons learned on that journey -
souvenirs, if you will, of Amosí voyage of self-discovery. Yet, as much as the
album derives from her personal experience, it also serves as a celebration of
feminine archetypes in all their glory.
PELE, THE VOLCANO GODDESS
The Pele in the title, for instance, refers not to the Brazilian soccer star
but to a Hawaiian volcano goddess - a "great mother" whose flames kept the
souls of the dead for regeneration. "Youíve never seen fire until youíve seen
Pele blow," she sings in "Muhammad My Friend."
Then thereís the protagonist of "Professional Widow," whom Amos describes as
"the Lady Macbeth archetype."
"There are many ways to play Lady Macbeth,"
she says. "It can be done in a Jackie O suit. I
like to think that I was clever about it. I donít think I really was. And the
reason she was so far out on the periphery of my, shall we say, bloodline, was
because I had judged her so harshly. I didnít claim the fact that I wanted to
be the king myself. But the widow was just so much freedom for me."
And so it went, with Amos finding various aspects of the feminine in each
"Marianne," with its rippling piano and melancholy melody, represents "the death of the girlhood" for Amos.
The single, "Caught a Lite Sneeze," is, she says, about wanting to do
anything to keep a relationship going, "knowing
that itís over, knowing that itís slipping through the hands."
And "Father Lucifer" is not about the devil, but about needing "to go to the space of shadow, to go where we hide. Not
Satanism. A whole different plane."
Funnily enough, the songs sometimes fought back. Although "Hey Jupiter"
finds Amos singing "and I thought I wouldnít have to be/With you as something
new," the lyric sheet renders the couplet as "and I thought youíd see with
me/You wouldnít have to be something new."
What happened? "It kept coming back that way,"
she says of the lyric sheet. "I kept correcting it.
Seventeen times, revision after revision, it kept coming back. I looked at it,
and said, '[It] needs to hold both of them. The girl needs to be saying it
while the other voice is saying it differently, because they canít communicate
In other words, let the song have its say.
NO DING-A-LINGS FOR FANS
Still, given the fact the album has such depths, and its songs rarely
deliver the obvious, isnít Amos worried that "Boys for Pele" will cost her some
of the fan-base that "Under the Pink" helped build?
"Well," she says,
"I donít think Iím singing to a bunch of ding-a-lings. If they show me
differently, then I misread them." But from the look on her face, itís
clear sheís not worried in the slightest.
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